SpaceX: Accident points to breach in rocket's helium system

Posted September 24, 2016

The space services company is investigating the root of the launch pad fire, which destroyed the rocket and an Israeli communications satellite that it was due to lift into orbit from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. That test had not yet been started.

SpaceX has said a helium breach was the most likely cause of an "anomaly" that led to the destruction of one of its rockets earlier this month.

No details were shared about the company's next launch, other than to reiterate SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell's previous belief that the company would launch again in November. No debris appears to have strayed beyond the SpaceX-leased Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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This month's blast took place during the buildup to a static fire test in preparation for the scheduled September 3 launch of the Israeli-made Amos 6 telecommunications satellite. The company has made headlines for its reusable rockets that can blast off to space, release a satellite or payload, drop back down to Earth and land upright on a floating platform autonomously.

The helium container, which investigators determined broke loose in the 2015 explosion, is used to pressurize an upper-stage tank containing liquid oxygen for the engines.

The Accident Investigation Team (AIT), composed of SpaceX, the FAA, NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and industry experts, are now scouring through approximately 3,000 channels of engineering data along with video, audio and imagery.

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According to the report issued by the company, the timeline of the event was "extremely short" and lasted only 93 milliseconds, which didn't give engineers enough time to determine the anomaly before the explosion. LC-39A should be ready for flight, and the private space company has another pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. During rocket launches, the Falcon Support Building is unoccupied, and thus any threat to health and safety from the explosion was avoided.

The explosion damaged substantial areas of the pad system but the liquid oxygen tanks, and liquid oxygen plumbings located nearby the launch pad that exploded remain in relatively good conditions.

Other efforts, including the Commercial Crew Program with NASA, are continuing to progress.

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A video stream from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida shows smoke rising from the SpaceX launch pad blast on September 1. The company is moving forward with several planned launches and Elon Musk remains optimistic SpaceX will be executing a manned mission to Mars within 10 years.